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Advanced Air Mobility, Drones & High-Speed Rail


Meeting Details: Monday Feb 27th, Online , 7pm


Faster Headlines

Wheels on Steel:

Government Technology
Los Angeles Times
Mass Transit
The Seattle Times

In the Tube:

The Motley Fool
NL Times

Up in the Air:

USA Today

Advanced Air Mobility & High-Speed Rail:

The overall theme of the Transportation Research Boards Annual Meeting in January was the “Future of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM)”. The Federal Aviation Administration has given this name to the whole industry of highly automated, electric vehicles that don’t fall into the category of airplanes or helicopters. This industry also goes by the name Urban Air Mobility (UAM), electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL), and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

Essentially there is the belief that a whole new aviation industry is about to be created of air taxis flying people around cities. United, Delta, American Airlines; as well as Embraer and Airbus have even invested in these startup companies who are creating this new technology. However, there is also the belief that AAM will be a competition with high-speed rail.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. High-speed rail can help develop the AAM industry, and the reason is vertiports.

AAMs will be battery operated and only have a 30–60-mile range with a passenger capacity of fewer than 14 passengers (with most being capable of only carrying 4 passengers). So these aircraft are not mass transportation. Instead, they will be niche players like helicopters today, and operate from a small base. Very similar to heliports today.

So where are these vehicles to be based? Well, the plans revealed so far are to have bases at major airports, or on top of buildings in major cities. These are known as “vertiports”, or a vertical “airport”. There are problems with this idea of vertiports. First, at major airports such as LAX, these AAM vehicles are going to have to be sequenced into the existing flight patterns at airports. This will put even more strain on air traffic control and facilities at the country’s busiest airports. Then as for buildings in major cities, there are the problems of noise, narrow flying spaces, and unpredictable wind currents around buildings. This made me question the current plan for vertiports.

Yet, rather than an airport…a high-speed rail station makes more sense for a location of a vertiport. A high-speed rail train system can serve a main airport terminal area, such as has been done in Amsterdam Schiphol or Shanghai Hongqiao, and speed passengers out to the vertiport that sits on top of the main high-speed rail station. The rail lines leading into the station can then be used as the approach and departure path for the AAMs. Then of course, from the high-speed rail station AAM passengers can be sped to cities farther than 60 miles away beyond the reach of current AAM technology. The solution would not only be more efficient than using an airport, but also safer and easier to build.


Southwest Airlines and the need for High-Speed Rail at airports:

With the meltdown at Southwest Airlines last December there has been discussion in the news of how California’s High-Speed Rail could have helped stranded Southwest Airlines passengers. After all, Southwest’s largest market is LA to San Francisco, and people were left wondering if there was a better way than Southwest.

Southwest Airlines and high-speed rail have a storied history. Southwest Airlines killed the first high-speed rail project in Texas back in the 1990s. At the time, Houston to Dallas was Southwest’s largest market. So, when the Texas High-Speed Rail Authority and TGV Partners were created, this threatened Southwest who then sued the Texas High Speed Rail Authority on the premise that the authority was unconstitutional. Southwest would have likely lost in court, but Southwest’s goal was not to win the case, but rather run the authority and TGV partners out of money…which Southwest successfully did.

Now that was in the 1990s, what about the future and the next airline meltdown?

Imagine if in 2022 the California High-Speed Rail could have picked up the stranded Southwest Airlines passengers and delivered those passengers to their destination. Or better yet, to another airline’s hub. For example, United’s hub in San Francisco. High-speed rail in the US would be a giant influencer to the airline industry.

With a high-speed rail system integrated into the airport passengers, baggage, and crew could be moved from one city to another, even during snowstorms. By 2035 it is a complete possibility that passengers, baggage, and crew could be easily moved between LA, San Francisco, Burbank, and even Las Vegas on the California high-speed rail system. In Florida, this will also occur in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Miami, and eventually Tampa. Then the list goes on and on as new high-speed rail systems are built throughout the US and integrated into airports.

Now airport integration is not part of the current US HSR strategy, but a Southwest Meltdown will occur again. Although instead of Southwest it could be Delta, United, American, or even Alaska Airlines. The problem will be the same, but with a well-designed system, high-speed rail may finally help solve the future airline meltdowns.

Stranded passengers staring at a departure board at Denver International Airport

The Faster Badger is produced by students at the University of Wiscosin-Madison to help break through the misconceptions of high speed rail and high speed transportation. This blog is for educational purposes only and all opinions presented are of the students.

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